Employers & Brokers, Events, Foundational Health Behaviors, Health Systems, Workforce Health | By | 11/29/21 | 5 Minute Read

Bouncing Back: How to Boost Resilience and Other Takeaways from HERO Forum21

HERO Forum21, a virtual event held by Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) featured organizations with stories to share about how the pandemic has changed their workplace mental health and wellbeing services. This year’s theme was Bouncing Back: Boosting Mental Resilience and Building Organizational Immunity. 

The Fitbit Health Solutions team joined experts in resilience and stress management to learn about best practices and future trends in how individuals and organizations effectively adapt after significant setbacks.

Here are six key takeaways from this year’s event:

1. Resilience is at an all time low

Considering what we’ve experienced as a collective in the last couple years, it’s not difficult to understand why. The world was brought to a standstill by COVID-19. We grappled with loss, constant change, and uncertainty. 

And in the US, we confronted racial injustice. A quote from Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, presented in a session with Sara Johnson, senior researcher at HERO, encapsulates this: “The pandemic illuminated inequalities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism.”

HERO Forum21 addressed the need for organizations to find ways to access the drivers of resilience and help employees reorient themselves and recharge. Employers have an opportunity–and even an obligation–to step up and support their employees, managers, and their organization.  

In one session, resilience was described by Kerry Evers, Co-president and CEO of Pro-Change Behavior Systems, as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma or tragedy” and “not a trait that people either have or do not have. Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.” This is good news for us all. Should we choose to, we can equip ourselves with tools to make the journey ahead easier.

2. Employers are striving for better health equity, but are not there yet

Foundational to developing and sustaining health equity is understanding the principles of equity and inclusion. Promoting a culture that openly encourages questions about and discussions on these topics is integral to building an inclusive community.

With respect to health and wellbeing programs, HERO Forum21 presenters suggest that organizations should ask themselves: Is our wellbeing program inclusive? Is it accessible? Does it take race or low income employees into consideration? How do you engage across demographics and empower those without access?

Another key to helping ensure the success of a wellbeing program –or any program– is to include people of different backgrounds in their planning. The success of a program is contingent on how many people participate. To get the most participation, the program should be inclusive. How do employers ensure a program is inclusive? By actively engaging across demographics, soliciting feedback, and giving employees a voice through representation and supporting an open culture.

3. Employers are prioritizing mental health and emotional wellbeing

Focusing on mental health is a continued investment for employers in 2021 and beyond. Recent numbers show that this support is crucial, especially post-pandemic. According to data presented by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, one in four people has a mental health condition, and one in 12 has a substance use disorder. The group also reported that one in four young adults contemplated suicide during the pandemic. 

The lack of emotional wellbeing, along with other stressors brought about by the pandemic, such as constant change or the labor shortage, also created a “burnout” culture that doesn’t just impact the individuals in their current situations. Without being addressed, these issues can have greater consequences down the line – strained relationships and poor health outcomes, for example. 

Knowing about health and wellbeing resources available to employees is just as important as having the support accessible to them in times of crisis. It can make all the difference.

4. The Great Resignation is happening, and companies need to respond

In the session, How Diverse Organizations Transformed, the group discussed how burnout is causing people to change jobs, citing statistics that 3 out of 10 employees plan to leave without a job lined up. Part of the challenge is that management support is often lacking. In addition to promoting a culture that values growth and a focus on wellbeing, employers need to prioritize training and resources to help managers show empathy. The speakers stressed how essential thoughtful leaders are in ensuring that employees not only stay at their jobs, but thrive and are happy in what they do.

5. Transparency in the workplace on the rise

 Amid some of the more concerning statistics were reports of positive change. Managers are leading the change in culture with transparency, starting with the call to action: Show up and present your whole self. 

The blurring of lines between work and life forced by the pandemic may have contributed to this surprising positive shift in workplace culture. 

Pre-pandemic, it would have been considered “unprofessional” to have your child walk in on a business meeting. Now, with makeshift offices taking up permanent residences in spare bedrooms and corners of dining rooms – it’s not uncommon to see the family members (or pets!) of coworkers in virtual meetings. And that’s not a bad thing.

The guiding principles in these new workspaces are: to be there for yourself, your direct reports, and your employer. But most importantly, be yourself – your whole self.

6. Fitness is taking a back seat to broader health and wellbeing issues

A focus on whole-person health is critical to supporting the overall wellbeing of employees.

Forum presenters suggest everything is interrelated and employers can no longer afford to focus on one pillar, they must have strategies in place that span across the following areas to help ensure the wellbeing of their employees: physical, mental, financial, interpersonal relationships, managerial relationships, social connectedness and sense of belonging.

In the Wellbeing Best Practices session, The University of Iowa Human Resources Department shared that their overarching goals included “supporting the whole-person wellbeing of faculty and staff” and listed “mental health and wellbeing, work and life integration, and financial well-being” as areas of focus. They believe that “when employees have greater wellbeing, they can bring their best and authentic self to work.”  


Overall, the HERO Forum 2021 sessions suggested that when it comes to significant setbacks, bouncing back may take time, but it can–and will–happen. The more individuals and organizations commit to learning and developing resilience, challenging the status quo, dismantling systemic racism, and understanding mental health disparities, the closer we get to a collective state of good health and wellbeing.

Until then, here’s a bonus takeaway to get you started on resilience training:

Just take it a day at a time

 In the HERO Think Tank session, Joel Spoonheim, Senior Director for Worksite Health & Population Wellbeing at Health Partners, recounted his personal journey after being in a drive-by shooting. He shared the following lessons learned: 

  • Fear is normal and healthy; it is an appropriate response
  • Unexplained fear is unhealthy, it morphs into something difficult
  • Life is too short for time to heal all wounds
  • Bad things happen and bullies exist, but we have choices every day to counter them

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